Mark 15:1-20 (New Living Translation)
Jesus’ Trial before Pilate
1 Very early in the morning the leading priests, the elders, and the teachers of religious law—the entire high council—met to discuss their next step. They bound Jesus, led him away, and took him to Pilate, the Roman governor.
Why did the Jewish leaders take Jesus to Pilate at all? First, they did not have the legal right to execute their own criminals because Rome revoked that right in A.D. 7. At the time, the Jews regarded this loss as a national disaster because to them it was the final proof that they no longer had the basic right of self-government–to punish their own criminals–and it demonstrated that they were totally under the boot of Rome. There were times when the Jews disregarded this prohibition of the Romans and executed those they considered criminals, such as at the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:57-60). Why didn’t they take things into their own hands regarding Jesus? Because they knew multitudes had a favorable opinion of Jesus and if Pilate executed Him, they could distance themselves from the political fallout.
2 Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
Jesus replied, “You have said it.”
The Jewish religious leaders carefully selected that accusation against Jesus to present to the governor. If they had said to Pilate that Jesus claimed to be God, Pilate would not have cared, since the Romans worshiped many and various gods and they were believed to appear in human form on occasion. But calling Jesus a king of any kind was a political statement, and the Romans were strict about that: there was no king but Caesar.
3 Then the leading priests kept accusing him of many crimes, 4 and Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer them? What about all these charges they are bringing against you?” 5 But Jesus said nothing, much to Pilate’s surprise.
6 Now it was the governor’s custom each year during the Passover celebration to release one prisoner—anyone the people requested. 7 One of the prisoners at that time was Barabbas, a revolutionary who had committed murder in an uprising. 8 The crowd went to Pilate and asked him to release a prisoner as usual.
9 “Would you like me to release to you this ‘King of the Jews’?” Pilate asked. 10 (For he realized by now that the leading priests had arrested Jesus out of envy.) 11 But at this point the leading priests stirred up the crowd to demand the release of Barabbas instead of Jesus. 12 Pilate asked them, “Then what should I do with this man you call the king of the Jews?”
13 They shouted back, “Crucify him!”
14 “Why?” Pilate demanded. “What crime has he committed?”
But the mob roared even louder, “Crucify him!”
15 So to pacify the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them.
from Peculiar Treasures: A Biblical Who’s Who
by Frederick Buechner
Pilate told the people that they could choose to spare the life of either a murderer named Barabbas or Jesus of Nazareth, and they chose Barabbas. Given the same choice, Jesus, of course, would have chosen to spare Barabbas too.
To understand the reason in each case would be to understand much of what the New Testament means by saying that Jesus is the Savior, and much of what it means too by saying that, by and large, people are in bad need of being saved.
He ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned him over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified.
The Soldiers Mock Jesus
16 The soldiers took Jesus into the courtyard of the governor’s headquarters (called the Praetorium) and called out the entire regiment. 17 They dressed him in a purple robe, and they wove thorn branches into a crown and put it on his head. 18 Then they saluted him and taunted, “Hail! King of the Jews!” 19 And they struck him on the head with a reed stick, spit on him, and dropped to their knees in mock worship. 20 When they were finally tired of mocking him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him again. Then they led him away to be crucified.
1 Peter 1:18-19 (NIV)
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.
Fernando Ortega sings “O Sacred Head Now Wounded.”
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love for thee.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
We’ve previously looked at the Jesus Barabbas (“Jesus, Son of the Father”) story in our partial comment on the parallel version in Matthew –
Matthew 27:11-26 (in addition to Mark 15:1-15, other parallels are in Luke 23:1-25 and John 18:28 – 19:19). And I refer you to that Matthew link for more background concerning the story.
In our comment on Matthew 27:11-26 we raised (and answered) the questions: Did Pilate have to crucify Jesus of Nazareth? And, did Pilate have to be reminded (by the Jews no less) that a claim to be ‘king of the Jews’ amounted to sedition against Rome? In our comment here on Mark 15:1-15, we’ll explore two events leading up to the “Jesus, Son of the Father” episode: the “Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem” and the “Cleansing of the Jerusalem Temple”. In conjunction with the story we are looking at today, these events raise some more perplexing questions.
Let’s briefly summarize the two events from the Gospel accounts. Just a few days previous to the “Jesus, Son of the Father” episode, Jesus of Nazareth had entered Jerusalem to huge popular acclaim. It is described in the Gospels as an event of national importance. The people greeted Jesus of Nazereth enthusiastically and hailed him as the Son of David, and also as a Prophet, waving palm branches (the origin of Palm Sunday) and spreading their cloaks in the road before him, as he rode by on an ass’s foal (Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-44, and John 12:12-19). Styled as a monarch, Jesus of Nazareth accepts without demur the kind of welcome reserved for a claimant to the throne.
Then, Jesus of Nazareth enters the Temple and in defiance of the Temple police overturns the tables of the money-changes and traders and drives them out of the Temple grounds with a whip. Certainly not the act of a pacifist based on a general principle against violent action. He was able to do this, the Gospels say, because the authorities were cowed by Jesus of Nazareth’s strong popular support. (Matthew 21:12-17, 23-27, Mark 11:15-19, 27-33, Luke 19:45-48, 20:1-8, and John 2:13-16).
According to the Gospels, Jesus of Nazareth’s “Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem” was on a Sunday. On Thursday night of the week following Jesus of Nazareth was arrested. On the next day he was dead. And the “Jesus, Son of the Father” story describes how the final word lay with the Jewish masses, the Jerusalem crowd. They called eagerly for his death, and insisted that he should die by one of the cruellest punishments known to man.
The crucial question posed by the “Jesus, Son of the Father” story, then is “Why did a crowd that acclaimed Jesus of Nazareth as a hero on Sunday, howl for his blood on Friday?”
The answer to that question which is most commonly given is that the crowd were disappointed in Jesus of Nazareth. With great hopes on Sunday that he was the promised Messiah who would defeat the Romans and restore Jewish independence, instead, by Thursday, he had been easily overcome and had accepted his defeat and arrest with passive meekness and silence. Jesus, “Son of the Father,” also had been overcome and arrested, but had not given up his stance as a “freedom fighter.” This endeared him to the crowd. And, with the fickleness of crowds, they switched their allegiance to Jesus, “Son of the Father.” Their previous enthusiastic love for Jesus of Nazareth turned to hatred and contempt, and in this mood they were easily persuaded by the high priests and elders to demand his death.
It certainly seems that the story is intended to convey this impression. The unspiritual crowd do not understand that Jesus of Nazereth is not the grossly successful Messiah whom they had been expecting. His kingdom is not of this world; he is the “Son of God” who must suffer defeat and death in order to atone for the sins of mankind. The choice of Jesus, “Son of the Father,” was a choice of this world, and a rejection of the Kingdom of the spirit.
Yet, the difficulties of the change of the crowd’s attitude remains. Would the Jewish crowd, knowing of Jesus of Nazareth’s miracle cures, be in despair of his eventual success just because he had been arrested? Rather, wouldn’t they be waiting expectantly for some miracle on his part. His disdain of the support of a regular army, and silence for the most part to the charges made against him, would be good crowd arguments for his quiet confidence in supernatural support upon which he could call when the time was ripe. And, a miracle, such as the crumbling of the walls of his prison, would certainly be a part of their picture of a Messiah.
And, when the Roman Governor came forward, obviously impressed with and awed by Jesus of Nazareth, and offered to release him (Roman Governor’s were not usually disposed to favor a pretender to the throne – especially, one who had entered Jerusalem with a high hand in the style of a conqueror) – now, there is a miracle for which the crowd could have been waiting.
But, instead of seeing Pilate’s offer as a confirmation of their hopes in Jesus of Nazareth, they turn against him, asking for the release of a man who was in the same prison for what would seem like very similar reasons – both Jesus of Nazareth and Jesus Barabbas (Jesus, Son of the Father), had become objects of suspicion to the occupying Roman authorities because of their popularity among the native Jewish population who were become restive with hopes of liberation from Roman rule – and with extraordinary spite they call for the death of Jesus of Nazareth. Now, popularity is liable to wane and crowds are notoriously fickle, but fickleness ordinarily would lead to neglect, not to active persecution.
In fact the Jewish crowd is not just fickle; it is inexplicably treacherous and malicious; displaying a motiveless hatred which clearly serves some purpose of the narrators, but has no probable basis in reality.
As puzzling as the answers to these questions are from a Jewish perspective, even more perplexing is another dubious element in the story – what has come to be called the “Passover privilege.” Look at the comments on Luke 19 for further in-depth study.